Does category labeling lead to forgetting?

Nathaniel Blanco, Todd Gureckis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What effect does labeling an object as a member of a familiar category have on memory for that object? Recent studies suggest that recognition memory can be negatively impacted by categorizing objects during encoding. This paper examines the "representational shift hypothesis" which argues that categorizing an object impairs recognition memory by altering the trace of the encoded memory to be more similar to the category prototype. Previous evidence for this idea comes from experiments in which a basic-level category labeling task was compared to a non-category labeling incidental encoding task, usually a preference judgment (e.g., "Do you like this item?"). In two experiments, we examine alternative tasks that attempt to control for processing demands and the degree to which category information is explicitly recruited at the time of study. Contrary to the predictions of the representational shift hypothesis, we find no evidence that memory is selectively impaired by category labeling. Overall, the pattern of results across both studies appears consistent with well-established variables known to influence memory such as encoding specificity and distinctiveness effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-79
Number of pages7
JournalCognitive Processing
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Categorization
  • Labeling
  • Memory
  • Schema encoding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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